We set aside a day to see one of Ireland’s natural wonders: the Cliffs of Moher. Despite it being clear across the country, driving there only takes about 3 hours. We were glad to be able to relax on a bus, especially since our driver had an amazing taste in music and because it seemed silly to pick up left-sided driving for that short of an adventure.
Ireland’s landscape changed gradually as we went west. Larger fields blended into working peat bogs. In some areas, heating with peat is still common, and each family owns or has access to a small field. Bricks of peat are cut out and stacked into pyramids to dry before being stored for winter.
Further on, grazing takes over. Cattle, sheep, and goats are moved from one rock-walled field to another. And there are lots of rock walled fields. And rock houses. And rock towers. Many are centuries old, and some walls have stood for at least a thousand years. Partial ruins are basically everywhere, sometimes just a single three or four story wall in the middle of a meadow.
Finally the Atlantic Ocean came into view, and our rather large bus made its way up rather narrow and rather windy roads (our driver listening to appropriate songs like Danger Zone and Under Pressure). Shorter 100 foot cliffs came first, followed soon by more elevation gain, and a parking lot just a short walk from cliffs dropping 700 feet into the ocean.
The cliffs are spectacular – twice as tall as the White Cliffs of Dover and running for five miles above crashing waves. I wasn’t willing to go right to the edge; the wind was spontaneously gusty and seemed to come from every direction. But even a bit back from the ledge, the views were incredible. We could see miles down the shore, across to the Aran Islands, and to the other side of the peninsula by Liscannor and a large bay. We were apparently very lucky – the previous day it was so foggy even seeing your feet was a challenge.
Seabirds were hovering hundreds of feet below us, and I might have spotted a puffin (!?) among all the gulls and guillemots. A few tour boats looked very unsteady on the waves, and I was glad we had views from dry land instead. Parts of Harry Potter and, more importantly, The Princess Bride were filmed here, so it turns out the Cliffs of Insanity are quite real. After about ninety minutes of wind-buffeting, we climbed back on board the bus.
The drive back seemed to go much quicker than the trip out. We stopped at Bunratty Castle, though didn’t have time to tour it. Instead, we had a pint and oysters next door at Durty Nelly’s. The bar clearly caters to tourists as well as locals, and part of their claim to fame is police patches people bring in from all around the world… including my small hometown in Illinois. It is the second time in less than a week we’ve had it come up – we met a couple in a bar who knew it because of “that cow thing.”
From the looks of the smaller roads we passed by, and the rolling hills that cover much of the land we saw, I think I’d like to come back someday and bike or boat around Ireland. We’ve heard that small vessels can sail the entire length of the River Shannon and that it is one of the more relaxing ways to see the country. Add that one to the future travel goals list…